Who Is Getting the Tattoo?

El alacrán.  Scorpion. Escorpión.  A terrestrial arachnid with pincers similar to those of a lobster. The creature has a painful and poisonous sting, delivered from the end of a jointed tail. The beast can hold its tail, curved, over its back. It looks fierce; even without knowing about its poisonous sting, I suspect anyone encountering el alacrán would assume it to be a dangerous, natural bully with a tendency toward causing terminal mayhem. To me, it appears poised to strike a deadly blow, as if engaged in a life or death struggle with a mortal enemy.

So, why does the idea of a scorpion tattoo appeal to me? Good question. Dragonfly tattoos have the same appeal, but for very different reasons. The reasons underlying both, I imagine, are buried beneath layers of psychological sediment only a seasoned therapist would likely be able to dig through with any success.

In both cases, were the decorations mine, the tattoos would be small and unobtrusive. They would be hidden somewhere, rarely visible to the casual observer, and then only by chance. Fortunately I do not feel a need for anyone to see my scorpion tattoo; so I doubt I’ll have it artfully applied to my body. The dragonfly one day may be a more likely visitor to my flesh; a reminder of my late wife’s fascination with and deep appreciation for the beauty of the delicate being.

It is difficult to wrestle with love of two different people in different temporal dimensions. Both feel, in a sense, like they are betrayals to the other. In reality, it’s even more complex and simultaneously more painful and more fulfilling. Love is not in different temporal dimensions. It exists simultaneously, yet those separate emotions feel like they exist in two distinct parts of me, as if I were two people at the same time. There are times I feel those emotions pulling at me in different directions, putting me at risk of being torn in two.

As I consider the reality of loving two people—being in love with two people—in two distinct “time compartments” of my life, the idea sparks additional considerations about exclusivity in romantic love. Why, when a person loses a spouse, is an additional or “replacement” love viewed as appropriate? It is not a replacement, in fact; it is an addition. Few people would say the widow or widower has replaced a lost spouse but, instead, has supplemented an old love (of a deceased spouse) with a new one that may be just as powerful as the other one. Yet most of us consider polyamory—supplementing an existing love with a another one—morally repugnant or, at least, potentially deeply hurtful. Another example of contextual morality or, depending on one’s perspective, contextual immorality. It’s hard to argue against either consecutive or concurrent polyamorous relationships, except from an emotional perspective. Philosophically…hard to say.

My mind ricochets like this every waking moment. Today, I think of scorpions for some reason and then, suddenly, the thought bounces across the brain and into the weeds, where ideas about tattoos reside. Almost instantaneously, the scorpions and tattoos prompt images in my brain of dragonfly tattoos, which in turn trigger thoughts of loving relationships that seem to exist in distinct emotional and intellectual compartments. From there, the ideas take on what seems like electrical energy, the current sizzling like live wires mimicking seizures. The energy diminishes briefly, while the intellect calms the electrical impulses, only to have them spring to life again as the possibility of the morality of polyamory rears its head. My brain must be fried from such frenetic activity. Instead, my eyes fill with tears as I ponder what’s wrong with me to allow such intrusive, upsetting, troublesome, insensitive thoughts to wash over me. Love becomes a boxing match that’s beating both me and my partners in love into physical and mental exhaustion.

But these ideas open the door to multiple emotional connections; polyamory involving large numbers. Yet those ideas are shut down immediately as I realize the “freedom” of such large numbers would apply not only to me but to my polyamorous partners. Freedom is attractive only to the extent that it has clearly defined limits applied only to others, not to oneself. It does no one any good to think of these things early in the morning, when the fog of sound sleep has yet to vacate the head. My IC might disapprove of these thoughts, no matter how fleeting and purely imaginary they are. When she wakes, I will give her a more powerful than normal hug, appreciation for her generosity of love.

I do not want a tattoo if it will exacerbate whatever’s rattling me so thoroughly this morning, as the clock nears six o’clock. I do not want emotional art of any kind on my body or on my mind. At least not right now. Okay. Maybe an aboriginal design around my upper arm. Or random typographical symbols on the palms of my hands. Or nothing but nudity draped over me.


We met with friends last night, ostensibly to make plans for an upcoming trip. We got around to that, but on the way to that topic we covered the waterfront. I love sitting with friends and listening to conversations spill, like water over-topping a levee. The flood of ideas is impossible to predict; eventually, everything will be discussed or, at least, acknowledged. Eventually, we settled on our trip plans. Laughter all around. And one of my friends removed the stitches from my hand. It was a worthwhile night on every front.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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